She says, It’s my birthday I’m going tomorrow.
What’s your favorite font? What should I
have him write? Serifs, I say, I like serifs.
I like old typewriters—the keys little platters.
I don’t answer the question about what to write.
The vellum of her back. I am not her mother,
who later weeps at the words written between
her shoulders. I get ready to retract the idea of serifs,
the pennants that pull the eye from one word
forward, but the eye loves a serif. When we
handwrite, we stop to add them to I. Read this
word like typeface, make me always published, I am
always a text. Write this on your back,
I want to say. Write that you are a lyric
and flying—serifed, syntactical. Becca chooses
Make of my life a few wild stanzas. She lies
on the bed while the artist marks her back,
his needle the harrow for her sentence. Make of
my life a place to stand, stopping-places, a series
of rooms, stances, stare, stantia, stay. She has
shown him a bird she wants perched above the final
word, stanza. It is a barn swallow—ink blue flash.
He says, toward the end, so she can know it will hurt
to ink so much blue, I am filling in the stanza now,
and he stings her right shoulder again and again,
filling the room of the bird. Make of my life
a poem, she asks me and him and her mother as
she walks away, make of my life something
wild, she says. I watch her strike out across
Number 10 Pond, the tattoo flashing with each stroke,
and there is barely enough time to read it.
THE DEATH OF THE READER
I have not read a book since my divorce, or,
I have been a bad reader and have read
books, but have not finished them, or, I may
or may not have read some books, but only
those I read as a child, and those to my son,
or, I have picked up books in order to love
them, but have been unable to. I have loved
so many books, and by that I mean novels,
those books that are to lose oneself inside,
to hide in a duck blind, to hide behind a door
with an axe, to hide in a tree with a friend,
to crush a birdnest in the fist, to watch the
smallest shells fall through the sunlight,
to pick up a gun and fire it by accident
and kill my ten-year-old twin, my father
running through the tall grass like he is
under water, I have never seen him run
so fast. Even hiding in the farmhouse,
fantasizing about a floor that can be hosed
clean. Mostly, though, the duck blind,
and being caught there, my long dress
having trailed the mud, and later my death,
there, in the second-floor bed, my eyes
two awful things, my death a black thing.
This is the tenth poem I have written about
my death, or at least the death of the reader,
or at least the death of the reader who cannot
read books, only poems. A poem can break
your heart in the short term, and over and over,
in the same way, and in others, the shards falling
through the treelimbs to the pasture below.
This is the heartbreak I am after. Not the one
after the marriage, the long marriage, the forty
open acres of marriage, the fifty page ending.
Just the snapping open of a valve, the chamber
squeezing like a fist, my heart breaking like
a bird’s egg, untended, desiccated, sparkling
in the evening light, so beautiful, so light
and diaphanous it almost doesn’t fall.
Dawn was pink, cold. Husks
of balloons grew—long thin
handkerchiefs into airships.
I sent her into the sky like a question,
stood in the driveway, smiled
the pasted smile of the stricken,
waved. She was ten. I could almost see
the light of my teeth. I was sure
they flashed fight—flight.
A balloon does not know where
it is going, and we gave chase,
there it goes, there it goes,
turning onto roads that thinned away.
She climbed and fell with shots of flame
along the river, then climbed so high
she became unlikely,
a lofty fleck of finespun color
spotting the gauze of winter.
For a minute, I lost her there.
Later, I thumbed through pictures
shot from the basket
and watched the morning—a flip-book:
There I was, smaller and smaller
on the driveway. The fields, too,
grew smaller and smaller.
Her hand dangled against the landscape,
smoothing the snowpack as she flew.
And while the sun finished cracking the horizon,
she arched back over the basket
and hung her hair into the sky.
all from Kerrin McCadden’s Landscape with Plywood Silhouettes (New Issues Poetry and Prose, 2014)